Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Published: 2008

Synopsis: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

My Thoughts: The Hunger Games is not a horror novel, but it's a book that I haven't been able to escape during the year and a half I've been blogging, and with the film releasing soon I decided I might as well bite the bullet and check it out. It may not be horror in the strictest sense, but the dystopia created by Suzanne Collins is one I think horror fans could really enjoy.

In the future (how far off is never specified) the world is a dank and desolate place. Katniss, our protagonist, is 16 and a born rebel. Thieving and hunting off Capitol property to feed her family, it's clear to see that she's going to cause trouble for the smooth running Capitol all too soon. Katniss lives with her mother, a healer, and her 12 year old sister Prim, the absolute light of her life. And it's her devotion to Prim that sets her on course for the rest of trilogy. When it comes to draw the names for the district's "tributes" to the games, Prim is selected to represent District 12. Distraught, Katniss takes her place, volunteering for what she believes will be her certain death. Joining her into The Hunger Games is Peeta, the baker's son, who helped Katniss out when she was most in need years earlier.

Now the Hunger Games are where all the fun is, at least for me, a horror enthusiast. If you've seen Battle Royale (and I hope you have) you already know the basic premise. A group of school aged kids are locked in an arena and ordered to fight to the death. The last one standing gets to return home and live forever more in the lap of luxury. Where it diverges from Battle Royale, apart from in goriness, is the reasoning behind the Hunger Games. 74 years earlier there had been a rebellion within the districts. They fought for their independence from the Capitol, but after the annihilation of a 13th district they dropped their weapons and surrendered. As punishment two children from each district were taken and forced to fight, and each year since this has been repeated so that the districts forever remember their place.

As time has gone on though, things have developed and changed. The Hunger Games are broadcast across Panem and are treated as though they're the Olympic games, something to be proud of and to celebrate. The residents of the Capitol relish the "sport" and drama of the whole event, so before the fight can begin, each tribute is primped, plucked, waxed, cleaned, painted, and varnished and forced to endure an opening ceremony and series of interviews. Personally, this is when I found things got a little dark. Unlike Battle Royale which purely concentrated on the present and the murders in the arena, The Hunger Games spends a great deal of time pulling apart the sickening festival that these games have been made into. When you think about some of the extreme calls for punishment demanded on the internet and news (*ahem* FOX *ahem*) and the fascination we seem to have with reality TV, it's hard not to see the plausibility of something like this. It's a grim future, and a sharp look at where our society is headed.

The novel is a cohesive story rich with action, characters and dystopian themes. Being a young adult novel, there is a lack of complexity within the plot and writing, however the quality, across board, is very high. Behind the awkward love triangle and heavily sign posted exterior, there is a dark and troubling interior that has the necessary bones to create a fantastic series. Questions are raised about independence, duty, authority, duplicity and reality, while statements on class equality, free will and social responsibility are discussed throughout the entire trilogy. This is the kind of book where you get back what you put in. If you want to examine it for tougher and more bleak truths, there is plenty of grit in there for you. However if you're after a (dark) action adventure with a dash of romance, then there's plenty of that within the covers too.

Suzanne Collins deserves a great deal of credit for the series she's created, especially in light of the Twilight style puff-pieces that are so predominant in YA books today. If you aren't used to to young adult fiction, you may find yourself tripping through the conventional YA narrative tropes, tools and formulas, however I'm yet to meet someone, from any walk of life, who didn't rave about this book the second they put it down. It's momentum hasn't slowed down for a reason, definitely worth a read.

4 out of 5 arrows to the skull.